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Disability benefits and retirement

When people are just beginning the process of applying for Social Security Disability benefits, one question they often ask is, “How will this affect my retirement? Will the disability benefits take away from my Social Security retirement benefits?”

The simple answer to both questions is: Social Security Disability benefits should not affect your Social Security Retirement benefits at all. In this post, we will try to explain why.

Social Security Disability

The funding for your Social Security retirement benefits comes from deductions taken out of your paycheck during your working years. When you reach retirement age, you can start drawing retirement benefits. The amount you receive is based on your average salary during your prime working years.

Similarly, the funding for your Social Security Disability benefits comes from deductions taken out of your paycheck while you are working. Should you become disabled and unable to work before you hit retirement age, you can apply for disability benefits. The process is not easy, and there are many requirements and obstacles to get past before you can start receiving these benefits, but if you are ultimately successful, you will begin receiving Social Security Disability benefits.

As with retirement benefits, the amount of your disability benefits is based on an average of your salary during your prime working years. When you reach retirement age, your benefits convert from disability to retirement benefits. The dollar amount of your benefit does not change.

Massachusetts disability benefits

So far, we have been talking about the federal benefits programs under the Social Security Administration, but some Massachusetts workers may also be eligible for benefits through the state. Massachusetts state employees who become disabled before retirement age may be able to receive benefits through the state employees retirement fund Accidental Disability Retirement program.

It is important to note that the requirements for these state disability benefits are in some ways more strict than the requirements for Social Security Disability benefits. In some ways the Massachusetts program resembles workers’ compensation more than Social Security Disability.

To qualify for the Massachusetts program, first the applicant must be a public employee who is a member of the Massachusetts contributory retirement system. Second, the disability must be the result of an injury or exposure to hazardous conditions in the course of the applicant’s employment. There are also a number of requirements for the severity of the disability.

Navigating the bureaucracy

Both the federal and state programs have extensive eligibility requirements and extensive bureaucracies. A large percentage of applicants for both programs are rejected the first time they apply for benefits. However, both programs also have robust systems for hearings and appeals, so those who have been rejected have a chance to argue for their rights.

An experienced attorney can help at many stages of the application process, and can be absolutely essential for hearings and appeals.